Photo: Adrian Wyld The Canadian Press By being so laconic, Justin Trudeau allows a political recovery likely to sow or even cement doubt.
Justin Trudeau asserts on every occasion that attempts at Chinese interference did not influence the outcome of the recent elections. The revelations may multiply, but the Prime Minister sticks to that and does not offer more explanations. By leaving Canadians in the shadows and by perpetuating this most complete silence of the intelligence services, the government nevertheless leaves the field open to the fears of citizens as well as to the incendiary allegations of Pierre Poilievre.
Last fall, the Global News network revealed that the communist regime of China would have tried to promote the election of 11 candidates (liberals and conservatives) in the 2019 elections. The case caused a scandal in the federal Parliament. Now, last week, the Globe and Mail revealed that China would have led a vast campaign to try to promote the election of a Liberal minority government in 2021, the party having long been seen as being less hostile towards Beijing.
“The election results in 2019, in 2021, are the results that Canadian voters chose, period,” Justin Trudeau said once again on Friday.< /p>
Either the defeat of eight or nine Conservative candidates – as the party worries, due to disinformation campaigns targeting the Chinese-Canadian community on WeChat – would not have changed the color of the government elected 17 months ago. . But a foreign attempt to tamper with the course of Canadian elections, whether isolated or even unsuccessful, remains worrisome, political groups and experts rightly reply.
However, the media had to reveal these interference efforts for them to be brought to light. The government, security agencies and the federally-appointed election watch group haven't said a word about it in 2019 or 2021.
What led Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre to launch, on Friday, its most recent fallacious flight. Justin Trudeau “was aware of this interference,” he said. “He did absolutely nothing” and he “accepted it because the interference was in his favour,” he charged.
Dangerous remarks, undermining the public's confidence in the Canadian democratic process, when the Conservative leader could have contented himself with criticizing the government's silence and demanding answers that have so far been refused.
The risks of silence
But by being so laconic, Justin Trudeau also allows such a political recovery likely to sow or even cement doubt.
“When these big national security issues aren't discussed, they can end up being held hostage to challenge our electoral system,” said Stephanie Carvin, an associate professor at Carleton University and a former analyst at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). This refusal by the government and intelligence services to explain the risks is “extremely dangerous”, in his eyes. Because for lack of understanding the daily context, the spirits get carried away when they face unexpected incidents.
Artur Wilczynski, a newly retired senior national security official, also laments a “systematic lack of transparency” from intelligence institutions. As a result, the conversation on these issues is not as “mature” in Canada as it is in the United States, Britain, or Australia. “This lack of understanding, this lack of maturity in the debate sets the stage for the manipulation of incidents for partisan purposes”, observes the one who is now professional in residence at the University of Ottawa.
This silence from the agencies stems in part from logistical reasons. Intelligence gathering is done clandestinely, and exposing its sources and methods in the open could “burn” those resources. Nor does intelligence always lead to criminal evidence that can be detailed in court. Disclosing the identity of targets, in this context, can interfere with their rights.
Despite this, transparency remains “fundamental” and can very well be done “while protecting the secrets that require it”, underlines Mr. Wilczynski.
Election results in 2019, 2021, are the results Canadian voters chose, period
—Justin Trudeau< /strong>
Thirteen University of Ottawa professors observed last year that the “tradition of secrecy” in intelligence has become “outdated and counterproductive” and that more transparency is needed to help society resist current threats.
Nor is there much political benefit to discussing these complex issues. No votes to be won, experts insist. They further recall that in the past, the unveiling of investigations has been seen to have influenced the electoral course. (The FBI's on Hillary Clinton in 2016 or the RCMP's on Ralph Goodale in 2005, neither of which led to charges against the politicians involved.)
“It doesn't is indeed not a simple file to manage. There are nuances, challenges. But it is an elected government. He should have the answers,” argues Professor Carvin.
A Shared Responsibility
This culture of secrecy does not only concern the Trudeau government. That of Stephen Harper was in the same boat, recently observed Richard Fadden, who advised the two prime ministers on national security. He also called on the government for more transparency, on the airwaves of the CBC.
Justin Trudeau's team ensures that it is working on concrete responses to the interference efforts of other countries. The Liberals have been studying for more than a year the possibility of creating a registry of foreign agents operating in Canada and trying to influence public policies or governments.
But this government would also have to break with the institutional silence surrounding national security issues to discuss them even when he has no announcement to make in the field. And thus reassure Canadians who are asking more and more questions. Because it is no longer enough to reproach the Conservatives for playing the game of foreign adversaries by undermining the confidence of voters. The Liberals too must act to address these legitimate concerns and thus dispel these doubts at their source.